Laura Spelman Rockefeller

Laura Spelman Rockefeller (1839–1915) was raised in the Midwest, living a short time in Burlington, Iowa before her family moved to Ohio. Her father Harvey Buel Spelman was a member of the state legislature (it's unclear whether in Ohio or Iowa) and an abolitionist who was part of the Underground Railroad. As a young woman, she was a school teacher at the Hudson Street School in Cleveland, Ohio where she was promoted to assistant principal at the age of 22.

She met John D. Rockefeller, then a bookkeeper, in an accounting class, and they married in 1864. John would go on to found the Standard Oil Company and become one of the wealthiest Americans of all time. As an adult, Laura was a well-known philanthropist, supporting many causes, including child development, education, public health, race relations, religion, and social welfare. In her will, she asked that other than a $450,000 bequest to family all of her wealth, $1,500,000, should be distributed by her executors to charities and educational institutions including what was then the Spelman Seminary and today's Spelman College, a leading HBCU. In 1918, her husband established the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial in her memory.

The foundation focused on building infrastructure for research and training in "child studies" with an emphasis on interdisciplinary research. by creating child studies institutes at a half dozen universities, including the Universities of Iowa and Minnesota, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Toronto, and Yale and Columbia Universities. In 1928 the Foundation was merged with the Rockefeller Foundation. 

At the UI, the funds were awarded in 1929 and accepted in a letter from President Jessup. In 1932, they were dedicated to the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station (ICWRS) by the Regents. Decades later, when the ICWRS closed, the funds were transferred to the Obermann Center.

Support for artists, scholars, & researchers focused on the well-being & education of children & families

In the spirit of Laura Spelman Rockefeller's commitments and the focus the Foundation that honored her, the Obermann Center uses these funds to support artists, scholars, and researchers whose work focuses on the well-being and education of children and families. The Center is currently using these funds to support two initiatives. We are funding a graduate research assistant who is working on a project with a collaborative team of local nonprofits to create a model for helping vulnerable learners during this period of virtual and hybrid learning. We are also able to provide additional Summer Interdisciplinary Research Grants to faculty members working on what Laura Spelman Rockefeller would have called "child studies."

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Apply for Funding

Special funding is available for Interdisciplinary Research Grant (IDRG) projects in the areas of children’s learning and development, child welfare, and maternal education through the Laura Spelman-Rockefeller Grant. To apply for these funds, please use our Interdisciplinary Research Grant application.

IDRG application

Obermann scholars supported by Spelman Rockefeller funding (2023–24):

Antiracist Education: Changing Practices, Curriculum, & Policies

2023-24 Obermann Working Group

Co-directors: Saba Khan Vlach and Tasha Lindo

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Reproductive Justice

2023-24 Obermann Working Group

Co-directors: Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz and Lina-Maria Murillo

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Chalk: A Dance Theater Exploration of Miscarriage and Motherhood

Summer 2024 Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grant Project

Co-directors: Kristin Marrs and Anne Marie Nest

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